Size: 11″ x 15″ Framed: 21″ x 25.5″ Antique birdseye maple frame with original giltwood liner. Archival linen mat with water gilt fillet, museum glass.
Grant Masters, the artist’s grandfather, stands outside the Missouri Pacific Railroad crossing shanty. These small structures, owned by the railroads and painted in their corporate colors, yellow and brown in this case, provided shelter for the so-called crossing tenders. Before the introduction of automatic gates to protect traffic and pedestrians from passing trains, crossing tenders, often semi-retired old timers, raised and lowered the gates by hand. They worked from these diminutive shelters, usually fitted with little more than a chair and a wood burning stove, both of which are visible through the window.
Ulysses Grant Masters was the family patriarch and the first generation of Masters to work for the railroad. Born in rural Missouri in 1866, he began working for the Missouri Pacific as a section-hand around 1890. Section hands, or gandy dancers, as they were often called, were unskilled laborers who laid track and maintained the surrounding right of way along a section of track that could be anywhere from 5 to 25 miles long. They performed some of the hardest work for some of the lowest wages of any job on the railroad.
He worked his way up to section foreman and moved to the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood in 1919 where he lived in a similarly painted MoPac section house. Situated at the confluence of two sets of tracks, it consisted of a kitchen and 2 bedrooms. It had electricity and running water in the kitchen but no other indoor plumbing. He and his wife Louisa had 12 children, only 6 of whom survived to adulthood. Their oldest son, John, who occasionally worked for the railroad, was Stan’s father.
Grant retired in the late 1930s and in this dignified portrait, alternately titled “King and Castle”, the blue-collar aristocrat, as the railroaders were sometimes called, stands in front of his keep, nattily dressed in a vest and fedora, stop sign in hand. In the background, a freight train to the left and a portion of the iconic Kirkwood Station to the right further attest to his life along the rails.
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